Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs

Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs
Photo by Camilo Fierro

If your young dog limps on its front leg, then it could be a result of elbow dysplasia. Elbow dysplasia in dogs is a skeletal condition that can be treated.

Still, it’s important for owners to be able to recognize and understand it so they can tackle it early before it becomes too challenging to treat.

What is Elbow Dysplasia?

Elbow dysplasia is the leading cause of lameness in young dogs’ forelimb. It manifests as the growth of skeletal abnormalities in your pet’s elbow.

As dogs with elbow dysplasia grow and mature, the condition becomes worse and can result in malformation and eventually degeneration of the affected joint.

Sadly, the more the dog’s bone degenerates, the more painful the joint can get.

Elbow dysplasia is commonly seen in giant and large breed dogs, such as Golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, Newfoundland’s, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Bearded Collies, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Chow Chows.


When a dog has elbow dysplasia, it can have a noticeably reduced range of motion in the affected joint. It can also display signs of discomfort and pain upon flexion or extension of the joint.

Dogs affected by elbow dysplasia may tend to hold the affected part away from their body and experience intermittent or consistent lameness that could worsen when exercising.

They can also experience stiffness in the affected area when first getting up after they are rested. It’s not uncommon to see sudden episodes of stiffness in the limb of your dog is geriatric.

There may also be a buildup of fluid in the affected joint as the condition develops. Your dog may also experience bone-on-bone grating caused by the wearing off of the cartilage.

Signs of elbow dysplasia in dogs

  • Challenges with getting up
  • Unwillingness to go on a walk or play
  • Swollen joints
  • Pain and stiffness upon flexion or extension of the joint
  • Minimized range of motion in one or both elbows


Three bones make up the elbow joint: the ulna, radius, and humerus. There are four specific skeletal conditions relating to the elbow that can cause the overall condition of elbow dysplasia.

One or more of these conditions can be present at the same time.

  • Ununited Anconeal Process: This happens where a growth plate isn’t properly closed. This could lead to a detached piece of bone that can irritate the joint and cause degeneration.
  • Fragmented Coronoid Process: This happens where a fragment of bone breaks off in the elbow joint. This irritates the lining of the joint, leading to the wearing of the cartilage.
  • Osteochondrosis Dissecans: This happens where a piece of cartilage becomes loose from the surface of the joint, causing pain and inflammation.
  • Elbow Incongruency: This occurs when the bone structure of the joint is imperfect. This can cause the cartilage to wear away more quickly.

Diagnosing Elbow Dysplasia

It is imperative that you immediately fix an appointment with your veterinarian if you suspect your pet is suffering from elbow dysplasia.

Your veterinarian would get a history and a physical examination, which would include close observations of your dog’s movement and radiographs.

Radiographs will provide images of the joint, conformational abnormalities, open growth plates, and anything that may be causing the irritation.

Usually, a more advanced examination may be needed for a definitive diagnosis. These tests may include an MRI or using a needle and syringe to draw out a sample of fluid from the affected joint space.

The fluid can then be tested for infection inflammation that could further worsen your dog’s condition.


The treatment of elbow dysplasia in dogs depends on how severe the condition is. Conservative medical options may be administered if the condition is mild. However, in the case where the condition is critical, surgery may be the best option.

The use of a fiber-optic scope (arthroscopy) is commonly used to surgically enter and clean the joint for any pieces of cartilage, bone, and loose flaps.

In fewer cases, a board-certified surgeon may adopt an open-joint approach rather than the arthroscopic method.

Managing the symptoms can be effective through the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Joint supplements like chondroitin/glucosamine (Cosequin, Dasuquin, Glycoflex, Vetri-Flex) and essential fatty acid supplements can be used to lubricate the joint.

It can also be administered to reduce inflammation. Pain and swelling can also be lessen using integrative therapies, like a cold-therapy laser.

Your veterinarian may refer owners to Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner, where dogs with elbow dysplasia can have rehabilitative activities, such as underwater treadmill, swimming, and a wide range of motion exercises.

Ultimately, healthy exercise is very important for dogs with elbow dysplasia. Exercising your dog with elbow dysplasia may seem counter-intuitive, but it helps to balance out the proper amount of exercise to prevent weight gain and muscle atrophy.

Atrophied muscles and extra weight can exacerbate joint arthritis. Many dogs with elbow dysplasia react well to the therapies mentioned above, and they go in to live happy healthy lives.

Your dog’s prognosis will depend on its age, how severe the joint condition is, and its overall health.

Are you a dog owner? Is your dog affected by elbow dysplasia? What measures have you taken to help your dog get better? Share with us in the comments below.

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